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In 2005, a new initiative combining homelessness and culture hit the streets of London after Christoph Warrack, a volunteer at a Soho homelessness shelter, questioned the lack of entertainment. Today, Open Cinema runs a network of film clubs and workshops for the homeless and socially excluded. With six film clubs in London, together with clubs in Exeter, Bradford and Newcastle, Open Cinema is now looking to expand to the West Midlands.
The non-profit Open Cinema has been invited to collaborate with 7 Inch Cinema, which runs film screenings and music events in Birmingham. It also produces the illustrious Flatpack Film Festival, which offers rising filmmakers a new platform to present their work. This ethos links directly with the Open Cinema belief in empowerment and nourishment through culture and - specifically - film. Open Cinema CEO Christoph Warrack stresses the importance of spreading this belief through the flexibility of the service: "I'm keen to find partners in the Midlands to see how Open Cinema will develop in local contexts. The service has been designed to be adapted so that any audience can programme, produce and lead live presentations with the films and filmmakers, and develop their own ideas and aspirations. This can be transformative for people who have been experiencing homelessness or isolation, but it's exciting and empowering for almost anyone."
Not only does Open Cinema pull out all the stops to offer clients the full cinema experience, with screenings chosen by participants, but they also run film workshops allowing members to develop valuable creative skills by making films which convey their own experiences.
The film clubs' special guests have included Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears. Guests introduce and give Q&A sessions on their feature or short film. This allows members to connect with the filmmakers who inspire them, and welcomes them back into a culture and community from which they have been excluded.
Open Cinema success stories have included clients being given permanent roles and others being accepted onto academic film courses. The response has been encouragingly positive. "You need a bit of laughter and comedy in your life," members comment. "People get down in the dumps and this cheers you up... Some people come here because they have nowhere to go."
Open Cinema would love to hear from anyone in the West Midlands who'd like to set up an Open Cinema for their community or for any disadvantaged group they work with. To find out more, please visit www.opencinema.net.